Stereotyping in Hollywood is real, and Kal Penn just proved it.
On Twitter, the “Designated Survivor” star shared some of his old audition scripts “from some of my first years trying to be an actor.” The snippets revealed shockingly racist roles for shows like “King of Queens” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.”
Because Penn is Indian, he was typecast in stereotypical roles, which included a "Gandhi lookalike," a snake charmer, a fire eater and a foreign student.
Found a bunch of old scripts from some of my first years trying to be an actor. pic.twitter.com/GydOwlUKGW— Kal Penn (@kalpenn) March 14, 2017
Friggin King of Queens man! I used to love that show until I got to audition for it lol pic.twitter.com/2BYu0nnd57— Kal Penn (@kalpenn) March 14, 2017
Sabrina the Teenage Witch! Man. We got INTO it about why he had to have an accent. I'm laughing about it now but they were such dicks 😂 pic.twitter.com/kXdHjVsqvT— Kal Penn (@kalpenn) March 14, 2017
Many scripts also required him to speak with an accent.
Jeez I remember this one! They were awful. "Can you make his accent a little more AUTHENTIC?" That usually meant they wanted Apu pic.twitter.com/3F5XRORO3n— Kal Penn (@kalpenn) March 14, 2017
This was a pilot called The Stones. Tried to convince them to let me speak without an accent & make it funny on the merits (was told no) 😂 pic.twitter.com/SuUVYT7rip— Kal Penn (@kalpenn) March 14, 2017
Some even got real specific with its stereotypes, describing his character as not only someone who spoke with an accent, but someone who looked “unwashed” or wore “too much cologne.”
Whoa I remember this! This was one of my first commercials. The makeup people would use Vaseline to get the sweaty unwashed look going pic.twitter.com/X7z4EI4drQ— Kal Penn (@kalpenn) March 14, 2017
I do not remember this audition except that it was for some shitty MTV show and the big joke was an accent and too much cologne 🙄😂 pic.twitter.com/7HZbhQCkaB— Kal Penn (@kalpenn) March 14, 2017
But despite this, Penn ended his Twitter thread on a positive note, thanking shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “24” for the “really smart, creative people who didn't have to use external things to mask subpar writing.”
He also used “House” creator David Shore as an example of someone who casts actors “largely colour & gender blind,” which makes things “more interesting.”
Hollywood has a bad reputation of stereotyping people of colour and Penn isn’t the first to bring up the issue. In 2015, Aziz Ansari not only wrote a New York Times op-ed addressing issues of diversity, whitewashing and typecasting in the media, but he also dedicated an entire episode of his Netflix show “Master of None” to discuss the same topic.
“If I do a show with two Indian guys on the poster, everyone's gonna think it's an Indian show. It wouldn't be as relatable to a large, mainstream audience,” someone tells his character, Dev, on the show.
He then responds with, “Yeah, but you'd never say that about a show with two white people. Every show has two white people. People don't watch ‘True Detective’ and go ‘oh, there's that white detective show!’”
The number of roles available for Asian actors is disturbingly low, with only one per cent of Asians actually landing leading roles. On top of that, 52 per cent of movies and TV shows feature no Asian characters at all, according to statistics from 2016.
The limited opportunities for Asian actors only contributes to Hollywood’s problem with representation, as the typecast roles they play only reinforce negative stereotypes.
Hollywood can certainly do a lot better.
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